35 Pakistani prisoners return home after being freed from Guantanamo Bay

Saturday, September 18th 2004, 10:41 am
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Thirty-five Pakistani prisoners released from U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba returned home Saturday, a senior interior ministry official said.

Pakistani authorities detained the men for questioning after they arrived at a Pakistani air base near the capital Islamabad, said Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, director-general of the National Crisis Management Cell at the Interior Ministry.

He said the men will be freed and allowed to go home after the interrogations were completed.

Cheema was the head of a Pakistani delegation that went to Washington in May to secure the release of their citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay.

On Saturday, Cheema told The Associated Press that the release of the 35 Pakistanis was the result of their ``successful talks with the U.S. officials.''

He said in May they had told the U.S. officials that Pakistanis detained at Guantanamo Bay are not members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, and that the men had gone to Afghanistan in response to appeals by Islamic leaders, who at the time were telling everybody to participate in Jihad or holy war against America.

``We are happy that most our people came back today.'' he said.

Cheema said about five or six Pakistanis are still to be released by the U.S. officials, but he hope that they would also come back soon.

He would not say why those men were not freed by the U.S. authorities, however.

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in it war on terror.

Hundreds of Pakistani Islamic militants went to Afghanistan to fight alongside Taliban after the United States began military operations in October 2001, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

A large number of Pakistanis were either killed or returned home after the fall of Taliban's regime in late 2001. But some were caught by U.S. forces and sent to Guantanamo Bay for alleged ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The Pakistanis were among some 600 detainees from 44 countries being held at Guantanamo.

The release of the prisoners came a day before President Gen. Pervez Musharraf leaves for the United States to address the U.N. General Assembly session.

Musharraf will also meet with the U.S. president on sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session.